Tireless investor cuts to the chase

PHOTO: Tireless investor cuts to the chase

HINT to bosses: The next time you find yourself in a meeting that stretches on for hours without achieving anything, try removing all the chairs - forcing everyone to stand.

That was the simple solution used by local businessman Jonathan Lim Keng Hock to focus minds when he was faced with the problem, a pet peeve of executives at many other firms here.

"They were not discussing the agenda of the meeting... I told them that if standing didn't work, in future, the person talking would need to hold a medicine ball too," said Mr Lim, 53.

Fortunately, things did not get to that stage. The staff quickly got the idea, and meetings were soon completed in under 30 minutes, down from more than two hours previously.

Interminable-meeting syndrome reared its ugly head after Mr Lim sold his home-grown firm Romar Positioning Equipment to Irish industrial equipment company Charter International in 2008.

He stayed on for another 18 months post-acquisition to help with the transition.

But he found that some of the new foreign executives would cause the meetings to drag on, go off on irrelevant tangents and fail to discuss the matters on the agenda.

Mr Lim's no-nonsense solution reflects key aspects of his personality - straight-shooting, organised and extremely focused.

These traits were reflected most recently during Mr Lim's exchange with Catalist-listed Scorpio East Holdings, where he used to be the largest shareholder.

Mr Lim entered the company last month after taking over a major stake from former Scorpio East director Hady Hartanto.

But in March, the firm agreed to a share placement with parties including substantial shareholder Lian Bee Metal that would have bumped Mr Lim into second place.

Unhappy at the prospect, Mr Lim worked tirelessly for three weeks before the May 31 meeting for Scorpio East shareholders to vote on the placement.

He cobbled together alternative funding proposals for Scorpio East, including a proposed convertible loan and another placement plan, and sent his offer in a letter to the board.

There were intense discussions with his lawyers and advisers on possible courses of action.

Mr Lim cancelled all overseas trips, and moved with his wife into a suite at Marina Bay Sands for a week to focus on this work.

He booked a room at a Chinese restaurant there and moved audio-visual equipment and whiteboards there for planning as he charted his course of action.

"I have an engineering mind," said the soft-spoken Mr Lim. "When my people come telling me things, I tell them I cannot understand. I need them to draw things out, use mind maps, graphs and charts."

So everything from business plans to proposed company structures was drawn out in neat diagrams and mind maps on sheets of mahjong paper.

Mr Lim started building his fortune from engineering. In 1978, he topped his class at the Bukit Merah Vocational Institute, a campus of the former Vocational and Industrial Training Board, now known as the Institute of Technical Education.

After national service and working in some sales and administrative roles, he started Romar, a maker of rolling equipment used in piping and pressure vessels, in 1984. The next 24 years were spent building the firm, before it was sold in 2008 to Charter.

After staying on for a while to ensure a smooth transfer, Mr Lim spent his time on other investments.

He has bought stakes in SNF Corp - now known as Adventus Holdings - and Enzer Corp, which has been renamed Vallianz Holdings. Both firms went through extensive restructuring with him on board.

Most recently, Mr Lim got a stake in Scorpio East. He was outvoted and the placement has been completed, but he said he is now "discussing options" with his lawyers.

Mr Lim also has regional investments in biosciences, software, food and beverage, entertainment, minerals, oil & gas and energy.

Property is another love. In 2008, Mr Lim spent $11.8 million on a Windsor Park Road bungalow which he bought from Dr Anthony Soh, who made a botched takeover bid for Jade Technologies that year.

Mr Lim, who also boasts a fleet of luxury and sports cars ranging from Rolls-Royces to Ferraris, recently led a group of wealthy investors in spending almost $100 million buying 300 condominium units and 100 parking spaces at a project in Manila Bay in the Philippines.

He is convinced that prices will rise, with the area set to have four casinos by 2016. The plan is to gradually sell all the units by then. "I can see the area being the next Marina Bay Financial Centre or the next Pudong in Shanghai," said Mr Lim.

To handle all his projects, Mr Lim survives on very little sleep. He wakes up at 6am daily, regardless of what time he slept the night before.

"I've got an average of only three hours of sleep (every night) over the past 20 over years," he said. "As (inventor) Thomas Edison said, sleep is a waste of time."

jonkwok@sph.com.sg


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

SERVICES